Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Year of the Women

2016 was supposed to be the Year of the Woman.  It wasn't, quite.  A lot of women voted for the first female presidential candidate nominated by a major party, but not enough--especially white women.  This alone is not why she lost.  But this alone is how she could have won.

Women are not an easily definable political group--particularly as a self-defined group.  They don't all go to the same churches or live in the same cities or states, or the same neighborhoods with mostly other women.  They aren't defined as a political group by their union membership, with its economic incentives.  They aren't mostly found on college campuses.  They are different ages, of different cultures and socioeconomic status.

In 2016 women's votes were (generally speaking) more defined by their race, education level, geographic location and economic status than their gender. (Though psychological factors relating to gender relationships probably did have a role.) Women didn't have--or didn't perceive themselves as having--enough in common.

But now it's 2018.  And what women do have in common appears on the front page.  Almost all women have faced decisions regarding birth control and abortion--the whole range of reproductive rights.  And virtually every woman in America has experienced--or knows someone well who has experienced--sexual harassment, sexual abuse and/or sexual assault.

Some women in 2016 had no trouble with allegations against the Republican candidate, and his recorded words.  Since then we've had the MeToo movement and the fall of one establishment male after another.  Some of those cases were probably injustices, but the accumulation of them said something.

I also would not discount the effect of the revelations in the Pennsylvania grand jury report of widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and the apparent cover-ups by the hierarchy.  These were front page news for weeks in western Pennsylvania, for example, and shook the faith of many working middle class Catholic families, not only in the Church, but in male authority figures.

So it's not 2016 anymore.  2018 is shaping up to be the Year of the Women anyway, with more women running for high office than ever, with the first minority white male slate of Democratic candidates in congressional history.

A wave election is one in which a national issue or issues predominates over state and local issues and even to some extent party loyalties.  Women voting for women, women voting for reproductive rights and against those who minimize and justify crimes against women, can themselves make this wave.

But now on center stage is a nominee for the Supreme Court whose record shows that he threatens a range of reproductive rights, who appears to be a skillful liar with a political agenda, and who is now credibly accused of attempted rape as a teenager.

Kavanagh is claiming that he was not even present at the asserted time and place.  Unless there is incontrovertible evidence that he was elsewhere--out of the country for that period, for example--this appears to mark the transition from skillful lying to audacious lying.

It will be up to male Senators to begin redeeming the Senate from the outrages of the Clarence Thomas hearings.  But it will be up to the women of America to demand an investigation and a fair hearing.  Their voices on issues raised by this court appointment beyond this accusation need to be heard loud and clear.  The Year of the Women begins now.

Monday, September 17, 2018

JFK Books

Before I pack many of these JFK books back in their box (for there is no room on the overflowing shelves) I thought I'd give them their close-ups.

These books remind me that at least in my lifetime there has never been as broad and extensive interest in a presidency as there was of JFK in the early 1960s.

Consider this as well as an appendix to previous History of My Reading posts, such as this one and this one.

These are books that JFK authored.  Why England Slept was based on his Harvard undergrad dissertation, originally published in 1940, about how and why England failed to prepare for World War II.  He authored Profiles in Courage while a US Senator while recovering from a recurrent back problem.  It profiles 8 Senators in history and their acts of political courage  It was a best-seller and won the 1957 Pulitzer for biography.  JFK acknowledged the role of special assistant and speechwriter Ted Sorensen, though perhaps not the extent of his contribution.  The role of writers such as Sorensen in books by public figures is now assumed.

A Nation of Immigrants was JFK's statement on immigration policy published in 1958 when he was in the Senate.  The other books are principally collections of speeches: To Turn the Tide covers roughly the first year of the presidency, The Burden and the Glory covers the remainder.  The Strategy of Peace selected Senator Kennedy's statements on foreign policy issues, plus an interview with him.  Published in 1960, it was meant to articulate positions he would advocate in his presidential campaign.  I got my first copy from the Citizens for Kennedy office on Main St. in Greensburg, PA, where I did some campaign work.

Three editions of Profiles in Courage still in my possession.  My first was a paperback written by "Senator John F. Kennedy." It was reissued when he was President, without changing the photo or the cover.  That's the bottom one.

 I'm not sure when I got the Inaugural Edition but I got the Memorial Edition as a gift in 1964.  It's physically a little bigger than the Inaugural Edition with a different back cover photo.  The foreword by Robert Kennedy is notable for the sentences: "President Kennedy would have been forty-seven in May of 1964.  At least one half of the days that he spent on this earth were days of intense physical pain."

Theodore White's account of the 1960 presidential campaign, from the primaries through the general election contest between JFK and Richard Nixon, was the first of a now-familiar genre.  It just hadn't been done before.

 Published in 1961, The Making of the President 1960 was a sensation, at the top of the best-seller list for months.  Teddy White wrote three more in his series, and using the Making of.. title or not, taking an inside view of presidential campaigns has become a publishing tradition ever since.


John Kennedy: A Political Profile was the first JFK biography and for awhile the only one.  Researched by historian and political science professor James MacGregor Burns in 1959 and 1960, it was published in paperback in 1961.

   P.T. 109 was the best-selling account of JFK's WWII exploits in the Pacific, leading 11 survivors away from their severed P.T. boat to swim for 4 hours to the nearest small island, JFK towing one injured man by a rope held in his teeth.  There were a number of articles about this incident (notably John Hershey's in Reader's Digest) but this book by a New York Herald reporter published in 1961 became the standard.  The 1963 feature film starring Cliff Robertson as JFK was based on it.

You can gauge the early 60s voracious interest in JFK--generally as well as mine--by the fact that The Kennedy Government, nothing more than bios of JFK's cabinet and White House advisers, was published in mass market paperback in 1961.

America's first man in space (Alan Shepard) and first to orbit the earth (John Glenn) were major events of the JFK years, leading to his commitment to land on the moon by the end of the 1960s.  This paperback (First American Into Space) is notable for its author, prominent science fiction writer and anthologist Robert Silverberg.  It was a time for s/f authors to claim some respectability, as the future they'd written about in their fantasies was becoming reality.

In the Kennedy government were authors of books already published, such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., J.K. Galbraith and Robert Kennedy.  Others published during the JFK administration, notably these two.  Point of the Lance was a selection of Sargent Shriver's speeches plus some additions relating directly to the Peace Corps, of which he was the first director.  Many years later I had dinner with Harris Wofford, an associate of Shriver's as well as White House operative in the JFK years, and later Senator from PA.  This book came up in the conversation, and Wofford said that he'd written most of it, completely uncredited. Under his own name he authored Of Kennedys and Kings, an account of the 60s.

The Quiet Crisis by JFK's Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall is a different matter.  It's first of all a real book, not a collection of speeches.  Published in 1963, it is an early argument for government action to save the environment, as well as a historical look at attitudes towards the natural environment in the US, beginning with "The Land Wisdom of the Indians."  Popularizing the great Aldo Leopold's concept of "the land ethic," Udall's book is a conceptual and policy breakthrough for the US and the US government.  President Kennedy wrote the introduction.

The early 1960s were rife with satire and political humor.  The Kennedys were gently spoofed in enormously popular recordings, beginning with The First Family in which comedian Vaughn Meader imitated the unique characteristics of JFK's speech and voice.  There were books of political humor as well, such as the Gerald Gardner series of photos with cartoon dialogue balloons, beginning with Who's in charge here?

Meader and Gardner were witty about JFK, but JFK surprised the country with his dry sense of humor and deadpan delivery.  He was particularly adept at demonstrating it in his press conferences, which were carried live on national television.  Bill Adler selected zingers for his very popular paperbacks such as these two, The Kennedy Wit and More Kennedy Wit.  For example, from a press conference:
QUESTION: The Republican National Committee recently adopted a resolution saying you were pretty much of a failure.  How do you feel about that?
PRESIDENT KENNEDY: I assume it passed unanimously.

Before digital, there was usually about a year between an author finishing a book and its publication.  So many books that were prepared during the JFK administration only came out when it was abruptly and unexpectedly over.

Jim Bishop had done a series of "A Day in the Life" books.  He followed the Kennedys for four days in what turned out to be during the final weeks of JFK's life.  It is written in October and November 1963, and JFK press secretary Pierre Salinger was reading it in typescript when he learn of the murder in Dallas.
Written in the present tense, and published in 1964 exactly as written (according to Bishop),  there are the inevitable eerie presentiments, especially as JFK spoke fairly often about the possibility of assassination.

 Hugh Sidey was the White House correspondent for TIME Magazine, and was granted a lot of access and time with JFK.  His book, he says in the preface, was supposed to be "the beginning of the story."  Instead when it was published, also in 1964, it became the first book about the entire Kennedy presidency.

President Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullet on November 22, 1963.  There were many memorial issues of newspapers and magazines (I still have several) and there were books that were quickly published like this one, compiled by UPI and American Heritage Magazine.  It is mostly photographs covering that indelible weekend from the murder in Dallas on Friday to the funeral and burial at Arlington on Monday.


The official investigation into the Kennedy assassination was headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren.  The Warren Report, widely criticized over the years, was published in 1964.  My copy was a Christmas gift from my mother, which seems weirder now than it was then.

Death of a President is a long and thorough historical account--more than 700 pages--published in 1967.  It is by historian William Manchester (his two volume set, The Glory and the Dream, has been my Bible on the Roosevelt 30s to 1972.)   Manchester had the cooperation of the Kennedys but Jacqueline Kennedy had strong second thoughts and tried to stop publication.  Deletion of a few paragraphs concerning the assassination was negotiated.  The book was an immediate best-seller but went out of print until 2013, which perhaps makes my crumpled second-hand paperback a rare book.  

These are the first definitive accounts of the Kennedy presidency by insiders who also were adept at objective research and were exceptional writers.   Kennedy by Ted Sorensen was published in 1965.  I wrote a long review of it published in the April 1966 issue of Dialogue, the Knox College magazine.  Arthur Schlesinger's A Thousand Days was published later in 1965.  These are my well-worn, much-used paperbacks.

Then there were the personal memoirs, such as these two, written by Kennedy's secretary Evelyn Lincoln (published in 1965; paperback a year later) and another by Kenneth O'Donnell and Dave Powers, who had known and worked for JFK since he first ran for Congress.  To suggest the continuing fascination with JFK, this one wasn't published until 1972.

The 50th anniversary of the Kennedy administration was the occasion of another flood of books, including two unique volumes, both essentially transcripts of enclosed audio recordings.  Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy (Hyperion 2012) presents mostly recordings from 1962 and 1963, after JFK installed a hidden taping system in the Oval Office, and took to recording phone conversations.  The technology was comparatively primitive, so transcripts are essential.  (The recordings themselves can also be heard over the Internet from the JFK Library.)

There are also JFK's private dictations, all meant to create an historical record and probably to aid him in writing his memoirs.  Some of the recordings are stunning--as we hear General Curtis LeMay sounding like Gen. Buck Turgenson in Dr. Strangelove--as well as mundane and vaguely interesting, as in a brief presidential conversation with the teenage Jerry Brown at the end of a call with his father, California Governor Pat Brown.

More impressive is the 2011 Hyperion volume of Jacqueline Kennedy's reminiscences with Arthur Schlesinger in 1964.  She speaks with clarity and insight about specific events and policies in their historical contexts as well as observations on family, personalities and her own role in the White House.  Because she never spoke on the record about the White House years, which (her daughter Caroline recalls) she later called the happiest years of her life, her voice and to a great extent her role in that history has been overlooked.  Now it can be heard, in 7 CDs. Again, the recordings are online, as are many others in the Kennedy Library oral history project.

Both volumes include forewords by Caroline Kennedy, who was instrumental in releasing these sound recordings and creating these volumes.

These are two of the many new histories published during the 50th anniversary. (I wrote about them in more detail here.)  Though Clarke's book is a straightforward history (making much use of information that has come to light in the past 50 years) and Jeff Greenfield's speculates on what JFK's second term might have been like, based on the same sort of information, they come to remarkably similar conclusions, especially about American participation in the Vietnam War, which both agree JFK would have ended by 1965.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Let Us Begin

I was not yet 15 when I stood in the Washington cold to watch the Inaugural Parade for President John F. Kennedy.  Lou and Mary--a family relation (through the Severinis I believe) and his wife-- who were my hosts had brought along a friend of theirs, an affable, lanky man they'd described as a funny guy.  He was.  He had with him a pair of binoculars, but they helped us see only in a general way.  They were actually a flask, filled with tea laced with whiskey to keep us warm.

Somewhere nearby President Kennedy was also watching the parade.  He'd just been sworn in as President, and was about 44 hours away from another milestone (which was shaking my hand.)  But President Kennedy saw something in that parade that I didn't.  Moreover, he did something about it, and it changed history.

Robert Kennedy is in one of those cars. My photo
mostly shows the job done clearing Constitution Av.
of snow that had piled up from a storm the days before.
The parade consisted of cars carrying various officials and politicians (I snapped a photo of Robert Kennedy, though at quite a distance), floats from the various states, military vehicles (including--as history has seemed to forgotten--tanks) and marching contingents from the various armed services (I snapped the marching Midshipmen from Annapolis.)  But when the Coast Guard Academy contingent passed the presidential viewing stand, Kennedy noticed that there were no black cadets among them.

Back at the White House, he asked why.  Eventually he was told that there was only one black officer in the entire Coast Guard.  Again, he asked why.  It turned out to have something to do with Academy requirements.  Eventually he got those requirements changed. From today's perspective, we can see that it was in a real way a seed of Affirmative Action.

Washington Post front page 1/21/1961
I'm taking this story from the Sidney Hyman and Martin Agronsky chapter ("But Let Us Begin") from the book Let Us Begin: The First 100 Days of the Kennedy Administration.  The title is from one of the many celebrated quotes embedded in JFK's Inaugural Address, which the Washington Post in its first report (which I brought back with me)  recognized as "surely one of the most eloquent in history,"
a reputation it maintains to this day.

 Towards the end of his address, after speaking about the major goals and policies of his upcoming administration, Kennedy cautioned: "All this will not be finished in the first 100 days.  Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor perhaps even in our lifetime on this planet.  But let us begin."  

The "let us begin"--three short words, four syllables--he separately emphasized, pounding out the rhythm on the lectern.  References to the future now are prophetic and tragic.  But the words of action--that emphatic burst of intent--remain inspiring.

And they were true.  For reading this chapter now, I see how many beginnings there were: how many seeds were planted that did not fully bear fruit for years or even decades, but eventually changed things.  JFK and RFK often talked about "the unfinished business of this country," and of course that business remains unfinished.  But there was progress, and it was seeded, or began or was accelerated in the Kennedy administration.which began that day, January 20,1961 and ended on November 22, 1963.

Kennedy fought a tough primary in West Virginia and spent a lot of time in the state.  It was perhaps his first close-up view of poverty--including white poverty-- particularly in rural areas of Appalachia that rivaled anything seen in the Great Depression.  Perhaps this was behind his first executive order as President: to increase the quantity and quality of surplus food available to low income Americans.

The federal government distributing "surplus food" had been its main way of addressing hunger since the Great Depression.  Being on welfare was not required--families below a certain income could go to distribution centers and get everything from powdered milk and eggs to cheese and canned meats (including Spam.)  At a particularly lean time for my family in the 1950s, big blocks of surplus cheese and tins of roast beef (which tasted more of the tin than the beef) began showing up in our household.

Also in those first 100 days, Kennedy ordered a pilot food stamp program, so that eligible citizens could get the same food as everyone else at the supermarket, including fresh produce.  That became a full-fledged program in the Johnson administration, and food stamps replaced surplus food in the 1970s except as a supplementary program for targeted populations, such as Indian reservations.

Much of what Kennedy set in motion immediately was designed to take up the slack in the economy and "get America moving again," as he'd promised in the campaign.  But he made crucial changes within the government that seeded more changes to come.  His appointees made entire departments--from Defense to the Post Office--more professional and accountable.  He changed the composition of the Business Advisory Council within the Commerce Department from a self-appointment gang of cronies who used it to enrich themselves to a group selected by the Secretary of Commerce, with their meetings open to the press.  Greater transparency was coming to government.  At the same time, a more active Labor Department was looking out for workers but also entering labor disputes as arbiter.

Some of the most eye-opening changes concern the US military.  The defense budget had become a disorganized grab-bag decided on by the various services in conjunction with big arms contractors.  Kennedy ordered a complete review of US defense capabilities and needs, and after hearing from the military services and congressional leaders, created a defense budget that aligned with the findings of this review, and choices to upgrade and make defense more flexible.

This was a specific result of a more general policy of great importance.  Kennedy, this chapter asserts, "inherited a government in which high-ranking military officers had grown used to issuing pronouncements on diplomatic and security policies, however embarrassing to their civilian superiors.  President Kennedy lost no time in reasserting the Constitutional principle of civic supremacy."

This was a battle that would extend throughout his presidency.  Deferring to the military caused the Bay of Pigs debacle, while defying top military leaders essentially saved the world from thermonuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis.  But when the novel Seven Days in May, which depicted an attempted military coup in contemporary America was published in 1962, Kennedy told friends it was a plausible scenario.  Today civilian control of a more professional military is established.

Kennedy sent a stream of legislation to Congress, on everything from housing to national parks and scientific research.  Some of it notably was to continue or finish projects begun in the Eisenhower administration, including the federal highway program.  But much of it was innovative, and among these bills were several seeds for the future, notably the legislation on the issue then called "medical care for the aged," to be administered through Social Security.  Republicans opposed it as "socialized medicine" (much as they opposed Kennedy's call for a raise in the minimum wage to a grand $1.25 an hour, which they said would ruin the economy.)  Eventually "medical care for the aged" would result in what we know as Medicare.

In 1961 ecology was a future word and the environment was not yet a thing, but thanks mostly to his pioneering Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, Kennedy sent a special message to Congress about coordinated federal responses and policies to control air and water pollution, conservation of forests and water, and preservation of public lands.  These were the seeds of environmental action.

Early class of Peace Corps volunteers
The instant success of those first months was the Peace Corps, which he proposed in the 1960 campaign and was embraced in particular by the young.  Kennedy created the Peace Corps by executive order in March, 1961, and the first volunteers were in the field even before Congress formally authorized it in September.  The program got fully underway in 1962, and has been sending volunteers around the world ever since.

In Civil Rights, Kennedy instituted reforms that would ultimately result in the federal government leading the country towards equal opportunity and diversity in the workplace.

After the specific efforts to encourage racial diversity in the Coast Guard, the Kennedy administration took a number of meaningful steps in the civil rights area, including the Kennedy Justice Department entering several desegregation cases on the side of African American litigants.  But in terms of the future, Kennedy's major step in the first 100 days was to ban discrimination in federal government employment, as well as the contractors it hired. This covered nearly a quarter of the national workforce.

 But he did more to make the order effective.  He ordered a report "which would provide for the first time a statistical breakdown by color by all those whose work entailed the use of federal funds," as well as recommendations on how to remove inequities.  He created an executive structure to receive this report and to use it to end those inequities.

But even planting the seeds was not over in the first 100 days in the brief life of this Administration.  Some of the better known seeds were planted very close to the end.  The Limited Test Ban Treaty not only seeded the many arms reduction and anti-proliferation treaties entered into by the US, Russia and many other countries, it changed the dynamic of the Cold War.  Lines of communication and trust based on common interests and respect were, for one thing, suddenly crucial when the Soviet Union fell apart and nightmares of scattering bombs, or a collection of small and barely formed nations all with nuclear weapons, were avoided.

Kennedy breathed new life into the treaty negotiations with his historic address in June 1963, often considered his best speech after his Inaugural. (The basic themes were sounded in fact in that Inaugural.) The treaty proved unexpectedly popular, and Kennedy milked public support and also called in some crucial favors to see it ratified in the US Senate, which was in some ways more difficult than getting the USSR to sign it.

Then the evening after that landmark speech, he made another one--a television address, scheduled at the last minute, in which he announced his Civil Rights bill, the most sweeping in history.  He would not live to see it passed, but eventually two bills including the Voting Rights Act would become law.

The seeds continued to be sown until the end. Thurston Clarke's 2013 counterpart book, JFK's Last Hundred Days, uses facts gathered during decades of historical research and reportage to flesh out and at times reveal some of the dramatic accomplishments of Kennedy's last months, which included securing the Test Ban Treaty ratification.

Clarke makes a convincing case that JFK's horror of war and suspicion of military brass that began with his experiences in World War II, were paramount.  Some of the most prominent military leaders were pressuring him to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union in late 1963, when US missile superiority was at its height.  The Test Ban Treaty was even more crucial because of this pressure.

Still, the forces within the government opposing him, particular on military matters and policy regarding the Soviets, were known to simply not carry out his orders.  This included the failure to send the response that Kennedy wrote to the Soviet premier's friendly letter, and disregarding his order to close obsolete missile bases in Turkey that later became a point of conflict during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

March on Washington leaders with JFK immediately afterwards
In an important nuance often overlooked, the timing of the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was to support JFK's Civil Rights bill, and President Kennedy supported the march.  He considered going, decided against it and immediately regretted not participating (Clarke writes.)  But he happily hosted the March's leaders in the White House immediately afterwards, greeting Martin Luther King, Jr. with the words "I have a dream."

There were smaller seeds sown as well in these last months.  He had ordered a report on how equality in hiring for women in the federal government and the private sector could be encouraged, and he spoke at the presentation of the report, despite being (in Clarke's terms) a male chauvinist through and through.

He also took affirmative action of another sort by appointing the first Italian American and the first Polish American to the cabinet.  He was criticized for doing so as base politics, not taking into account "Kennedy's determination to make it easier for other ethnic groups to walk through the door that his election had kicked open," as Clarke writes.  For Kennedy was the first Catholic to be President, and the first Irish American.

Clarke noted that these appointments of individuals from immigrant groups of a few generations past came at the same time as Kennedy (who'd authored a short book called A Nation of Immigrants and had sponsored bills expanding immigration as a Senator) had submitted to Congress an immigration bill that summer that promised "the most radical transformation of U.S. immigration laws in almost half a century."

Kennedy had argued for the end of discriminatory national quotas.  An immigration bill passed in 1965 (with the support of Senator Ted Kennedy),  that came significantly close to this goal, and effectively dumped the discrimination in favor of northern European immigrants that had been US policy since 1920.  Apart from issues of illegal immigration, this provision alone added to the diversity of immigrants and the country ever since.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Don't Cheer. Vote.

"As FDR said, the Presidency is primarily a place of moral leadership.  Now the ex-Presidency is that place for moral leadership--and the contrast between an ex-President of impeccable character and proven good judgment, and the current President, who has the lowest character of anyone who ever held the office, is very striking."
Jonathan Alter
on The Last Word

President Obama's address at the University of Illinois was the substantive beginning of his campaign to urge voters to "save democracy" in what he called the most important election of his lifetime, this November.

Speaking to a university student audience allowed him to articulate a vision of American history and politics along with enough soundbites concerning current threats to the Republic for media dissemination.  But the entire speech was necessary to provide context for the future speeches he will make for specific candidates, and also because it made a thoughtful, scholarly and yet passionate case for his university audience, some (many?) of whom have never voted.

For this was a speech directed to millennials and younger.  As President Obama said, the students' generation is now the single largest voting generation in America, and (though he didn't say it directly) it has the worst record of voting.  He noted that in the last non-presidential year election, only 20% of millennials voted. Polls for this year still show a relatively poor proportion of millennials who plan to vote.

President Obama is uniquely qualified to make this appeal, apart from his ability to articulate a context and yet speak directly to their concerns and attitudes.  In a recent Pew poll, President Obama got more votes as the best President "in my lifetime" than any other.  But fully 62% of millennials chose Obama.  Although their list of possibilities was shorter, no other generation gave such a high proportion of their votes to one President.

He told them directly: holding out for perfection or a savior candidate doesn't work.  Not voting out of cynicism about the process doesn't work. If you wonder what the consequences of not voting are, look around.

 He told them: this is not normal.  This is dangerous.  What has happened to the Republican party?  What is happening to America?

If President Obama can motivate even 50% of millennials to vote, this will make the Blue Wave real, and the Senate as well as the House majority could be the result.

Saturday he will be in Orange County, which some say holds the fate of the House majority.  In specific races, President Obama will draw attention to the many women candidates, and the candidates who once worked for him, among other candidates.  He will motivate voters of color everywhere.

Some worry about the danger that he will also motivate the anti-president's base.  In recent mid-term elections, a greater proportion of Republicans voted than Democrats, and the non-base voters stayed home.  Getting more people to vote is the key to these elections.  There's not too many potential Democratic voters who are going to stay home because President Obama is out campaigning.

It doesn't matter how many of the anti-president's rabid base vote, as long as more people vote. And in particular races, a lot more people.

Apart from the predictable sniping from Republicans and their media outlets, the overall response to President Obama's first speech suggests that Jonathan Alter is right: the moral contrast--as well as the intellectual and temperamental contrast--between President Obama and the anti-president cuts across party lines.

Commentators kept saying that President Obama's campaigning is unprecedented for an ex-President.  I'm not sure that's entirely true, but they are also saying that the extent of the current anti-President's schedule of campaign appearances is also unprecedented.  Media is very likely to treat this as a one-on-one contest.  The current occupant of the White House has never had to run against Barack Obama. I like our chances.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

History of My Reading: The Beginning Hour

Doug Wilson from 1969 Knox Yearbook in
a characteristic pose outside the Gizmo
Freshman orientation transitioned into the school year that late September of 1964 with choosing and registering first semester classes.  My academic advisor officially was Howard Wilson, head of the English department, but actually it was his younger colleague Douglas Wilson (no familial relation.)  I don't remember that first meeting, but I would soon get to know Mr. Wilson, take classes from him, babysit for him and socialize with him, plus drop in for many informal conversations in his Alumni Hall office.  We've kept up a scattered but longstanding correspondence over the years, the only such relationship that remains.


Sam Moon 1969 Yearbook
I recall registration as a noisy process of finding the correct folding tables where the appropriate class lists were, and filling out forms under bright lights, probably in the huge Knox gym.  I was registering for my English class when the student seated at the table recognized my name and told me to wait, Mr. Moon wanted to talk to me.

At that point a thin man in a suit jacket, maybe tweed or corduroy, turned around and took me over to an empty table.  He sat across from me.  Sam Moon wore glasses that themselves might be described as "owlish."  But in fact I'd never met anyone who in all respects reminded me so much of an owl--a very kind owl.  I remember this moment and his face across the table as clearly as 54 years allow.

Sam Moon, more gaunt and younger than
I knew him, so earlier than 1964.

He wanted to talk to me because I was at Knox on the Scholastic Magazines Writing Awards Scholarship, and he was the de facto head of the writing program.  He wanted to assure me that even though I was there on a writing scholarship, I was under no obligation to take creative writing courses.  I said immediately that I wanted to, and he seemed delighted, but quietly.  I couldn't do so until sophomore year but he said if I wanted to show him anything I was writing this year, he'd be glad to talk to me about it.  It wasn't long before I took him up on his offer.

But before going creative I was registered to explore academic writing.  One or another of the tests I took meant I skipped freshman English.  Instead I had what amounted to an independent studies course in which I was to research and write a long paper.  I had mixed feelings about this.  My classmates all seemed to be reading The Education of Henry Adams, which sounded interesting, but I was left out of their discussions.  Still, I had plenty to read, if nobody to talk to about it.  Prof. Davenport supervised me, but as I recall I met with him only a few times over the semester.

This was probably the third long or longish paper I'd ever written for which I'd chosen the topic. The first was for a college prep course I'd taken the summer between my third and fourth years at the nearest public high school.  Hempfield High was just a few miles down West Newton Road. One of the attractions of taking the course was that I got to drive myself to it, in our very cool 1957 Chevy convertible.  Cool to look at but nerve-wracking to drive on narrow streets because it was so huge--the distance between the windshield and the headlights had to be five feet.

I must have taken two courses that summer, though from the same teacher, because I recall one of them involved some acting improvs--it was probably a speech course.  The paper however was for Advanced Composition and involved research and reading.  It had the grandiose title of "Victorian England and the Organization Man," which was more of a journalistic-style teaser than an academic description.  All of Victorian England was represented by one author: John Stuart Mill.  The Organization Man represented contemporary America.

I isolated one Mill idea--that the natural state of society is when "worldly power and moral influence are...exercised by the fittest persons whom the existing state of society affords."  (Darwin already!)  Mill didn't think Victorian England was in a natural state.  And I found plenty of writers who didn't think contemporary American society was either.  I quoted Mill that "the betters" in our society are " not their wisers, or their honesters, but their richers."

Why Mill? It's possible that I found a collection of Mill's work called Essays on Politics and Culture in the new nonfiction arrivals shelves I eagerly scanned on each visit to the Greensburg Public Library, since this edition, edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb, was no more than a year old.  But it's also possible that Mill got favorable mention in Arthur Schlesinger's Politics of Hope, published the same year as my essay (1963.)  I know I found that volume among the new arrivals, and pounced on it because I knew of Schlesinger's role in the JFK White House.  As for Mill, I quickly found his classic work, On Liberty.

Including those three, there are 12 books in my bibliography, and they mirror the places I found books before college as I wrote about them in previous posts: six I found in the public library, three or four were on the shelves at home (including in Readers Digest condensed form), and a couple were paperbacks I found on the supermarket or tobacco store/news stand racks.

The second paper earned me a brief moment of fame in my senior year of high school, the spring of 1964.  It was my final paper for Problems in Democracy class: a history of the first 100 days of the Kennedy administration.  It was 50 pages long. That's what made it famous--no one in my high school could even imagine a 50 page paper.  It was an instant if short-lived legend. ( Of course no one actually read it.  The teacher involved who spread the news of its length also complained about needing to read all those pages.  But she did bump my final grade up from a B to an A.)

The title of the paper was "The Beginning Hour," taken from the poem Robert Frost wrote for JFK's Inauguration but didn't deliver because his eyes were bedazzled by the sun and he couldn't read the pages. The lines extol "A golden age of poetry and power/Of which this noonday's the beginning hour." 

The paper itself has disappeared but I do have some pages of draft plus a couple of handwritten page of footnotes, numbered 23 through 161.  It begins: "Inaugural morning in Washington was frigid."  This was one of the few sentences that didn't need a footnote: I'd been there.

There were few books available (professional historians had not yet written on the subject) so most of my sources cited in this paper were periodicals, principally Time and Newsweek.  Once again, I owe this resource to speech club and debate.  That's why I had subscriptions to these and other magazines, why I knew about the periodical Vital Speeches, and had developed habits of capturing information on index cards, as well as hoarding the actual magazines.  I also quoted television documentaries and interviews, partly because I sent away for transcripts.  I used government documents, mostly from the library (including the Congressional Record) but again some I requested by mail.

I did have one book specifically on the subject.  Let Us Begin: The First 100 Days of the Kennedy Administration was not a narrative, however.  It was mostly photographs, with a half dozen essays by different authors.  Only two were directly about the actual happenings, and I mined these for facts.  (One essay--by Sidney Hyman and Martin Agronsky--is so interesting to re-read in light of subsequent events that it will be the subject of a separate post.)

Other books cited tended to be about the presidency itself.  JFK had made the presidency a topic of popular interest, and so I could find paperbacks including Ordeal of Power, Emmet John Hughes' book on the Eisenhower presidency, Decision-Making in the White House by JFK's aide and speechwriter Ted Sorenson,  and especially Presidential Power by political scientist Richard Neustadt, a book that President Kennedy praised and used, as obviously Sorenson did.  Neustadt himself took time off from Columbia to be a Kennedy advisor during the transition from the Eisenhower administration.

My 1964 paperback
Even all these years later Neustadt's Presidential Power (in updated editions) remains a classic work on the presidency and is still taught in political science courses.  It explains both the sources of presidential power and its limitations.  It remains a key work to understanding the office, and therefore national politics in America.

 Reading the surviving pages of my paper now I find the writing surprisingly good--better than most of the other high school and early college work that survives.  It's a well-organized historical narrative.

Which brings me to my first semester freshman year paper for English 103 at Knox.  I submitted a first draft and a final draft. The only comment or critique I remember Prof. Davenport making on the first draft was that the paragraphs were too short.  I attempted to fatten them up, but the only comment I remember about the final draft was that the paragraphs were still too short.  I got an A-.

In any case, sometime that year I saw a notice in the Knox Student that a new faculty-student magazine called Dialogue was soliciting non-fiction manuscripts.  So I slipped my paper into the appropriate mailbox outside the bookstore at Alumni Hall.  It appeared in the first issue of Dialogue, as "Affluence and Adolescents: The Emergence of the New Breed," in between reviews of Norbert Weiner's God and Golem, Inc. by my math prof Ron Hourston and a brilliant senior named Stephen Baylor, and Rowland K. Chase's Last Lecture on his production of Hamlet, which opened the new Center for the Fine Arts that first semester of 1964-5. That's why I still have a copy.

(I'm not saying it was the only one, but the only discussion I recall having with classmates about my paper while I was working on it happened in one of the college dining rooms.  I was at a table shared by Barbara Cottral and a companion I judged to be her boyfriend.  I believe she and I shared the same academic advisor, which may be why we got talking.  Anyway when she asked me the subject of my paper and I said "affluence and adolescence" she and her friend looked at me with slightly startled expressions.  I had pronounced "AFF-luence" with emphasis on the first syllable.  Apparently the Iowa--or more broadly the Midwestern--pronunciation was "affLUence." I'm not sure if they were impressed or put off, but I felt it was both.  Which is probably why I remember it.)

In many ways, including the books cited (only 42 footnotes this time), my first college paper was a combination and extension of those previous two high school papers. There were important additions, however.

 On adolescents, the major sources were The Vanishing Adolescent by Edgar Z. Friedenberg, and  Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd (with its immortal sentence about how young people saw their future: "During my productive years I will spend eight hours a day doing what is no good." )

 Goodman's book was a best seller so I probably got it as a paperback, but I know for sure that's how I found The Vanishing Adolescent.  Though not as well remembered, it was a popular book at the time. I was more impressed by Friedenberg, and a few years later I heard him speak in what I recall as a large classroom at UC Berkeley, where I also saw and heard Tom Hayden.

First edition without jacket, probably
as I would have found it in the library.
I now own one.
On the affluence theme, there was of course The Affluent Society by economist John Kenneth Galbraith. It was famous on its own, but I could also have come to it because of Galbraith's association with the Kennedy administration (he was JFK's ambassador to India.)

The title entered the language, to be used in ways that had little to do with the book's thesis. It isn't about the evils of affluence, but about the inadequacy of economic theories and policies that don't recognize the marked differences between a society of scarcity and a society of abundance.

 Reading it today precisely 60 years after its first publication, its main point rings true, particularly in view of the same obsolete economics still favored by the Republican party, as well as related points on income inequality and the unmet needs in the public sector.  This book also gave us the perennially useful concept of "the conventional wisdom."

Another title that entered the language is The Organization Man by William H. Whyte, Jr.  It also is used to represent the era (as I did it in my Mill paper.) The book itself is a penetrating, carefully researched and well-written study of early suburbia and the large postwar organizations for which suburbia furnished the family homes.

As such, when I reread it carefully years later, it became a key background text for me in my own researches and writings, particular for a 1980 article on suburbia that was a cover story in the New York Times Magazine, and more generally for my book The Malling of America.  When I met the author around that time, he was a kind and still curious and enthusiastic scholar who had mostly turned his attention to urban spaces, and was said to have been a mentor to Jane Jacobs and others.

But at the time of my freshman paper, the Organization Man was mostly another symbol of suburban conformity.  Providing something of a psychological counterpart to Whyte's more sociological view was David Riesman.  I got his paperback, Selected Essays from Individualism Reconsidered off the racks, which led me to his classic work (which I'd probably read about in the magazines), The Lonely Crowd.  The popular press particularly noted his concepts of "inner-directed" and "outer-directed" people in terms of where they got their values. Though neither book is cited in any of my papers, my reading and scattered understanding of them contributed to my impression of contemporary society.

Many of these books, as well as magazine articles, portrayed conformity and the repression of difference as endemic to the middle-class ethic.  Clearly my interest was in individual development and self-expression, especially my own. That's a thread that runs through all three papers, beginning with John Stuart Mill's championing of eccentricity.  ("Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded.")

In that Mill paper I also quoted Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. from Politics of Hope noting that "contemporary society... has little use for the individualist" and asserting "Everything that matters in our intellectual and moral life begins with an individual confronting his own mind and conscience in a room by himself."

When Schlesinger became a JFK aide, his point of view became identified with the Kennedy era. Eric Goldman, in the opening essay of Let Us Begin, notes Schlesinger's view that with quantitative improvements largely achieved in the affluent society, attention "should turn to the 'qualitative' development of the individual."

And of western "man," Barbara Ward concluded in her essay in this volume, "The fateful question remains whether, while gaining affluence, he may not have lost his vision and his soul."  (Barbara Ward, a distinguished scholar and editor, would in a few years take Buckminister Fuller's term "spaceship earth" as the title of her new book, and thereby help popularize the concept.)

Looking back, I can see that the repression I recognized and was specifically rebelling against was not so much that of the upwardly mobile middle class organization man (I didn't actually know any.) Its source in my life was primarily the Catholic church and Catholic education at that time.  Still, I was accurately picking up this theme in my reading, and from my limited observations it rang true.

I also absorbed some ill-informed and readymade judgments of, for example, "the beats" and rejected their "nihilistic" alternative to the Organization Man.  I latched instead on the concept of the New Breed (which I recognized as a "dubious" term) as developed by Andrew Greeley in the pages of America magazine.  It's worth noting that Greeley was a Jesuit, and this was a Jesuit magazine.  It still felt more secure to have some Catholic connection, if not imprimatur.

Greeley's (and Friedenberg's) new breed of young people were both idealistic and pragmatic, valuing honesty and integrity, but also skill and effectiveness.  It was a reminiscent in some ways of younger versions of JFK, the "idealist without illusions." But more specifically it was based on the young Civil Rights activists, both black and white.  I would come to see these characteristics in some of the older students at Knox.  The New Breed, such as it was, now seems a distinctly early 60s model.

It was that first year at Knox that my connection with the Church became more tenuous.  I recall showing up for the Newman Club (an organization for Catholics) as one of my stops on the orientation tour of clubs and organizations, but I didn't join.  I continued to attend Sunday Mass in Galesburg, however.

Until one winter Sunday the thread just broke.  For some reason I saw a familiar sight with new eyes during that morning's Mass: that all the attendees kept their coats on during the service, as if their presence was partial, and they couldn't wait to leave.

That evening I went to dinner in the Knox student union, where dozens of students had piled their coats on top of each other on the floor in the hall outside the dining rooms. That sight decided me. That's where I was going to find warmth and involvement, maybe even trust and intimacy, and along with books and studies and curiosity, where I might find meaning.

For in addition to my solitary work on my English 103 paper, I had other classes with students and teachers that first semester, and a growing life outside classrooms, including for pretty much the first time, something like an actual social life.  I had this new world to explore, and I did.

And along the way, I had new books to read.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Union Diversity: A Late Labor Day Observation (with a comment on Kavanaugh)

Ladies Garment Workers Union celebrates 60th anniversary
in a 1960 Labor Day Parade
You'd need to have been born no later than the 1950s to remember a thriving labor movement.  Industrial labor unions were potent political forces as well as engaging in high stakes negotiations that made American workers pretty much the best paid in the world.

Those gains were hard fought from the 19th century onwards, and strikes were a part of ordinary life.  I think as kids in 1950s western Pennsylvania, a long steel strike was almost as scary a prospect as an atomic bomb attack.  But those strikes and negotiations provided middle class incomes to the industrial working class, and everybody in the community benefited.

By the 1970s industries were choosing profits over community and began closing plants and relocating outside the country when foreign steelmakers became more competitive. Also wounded by internal corruption, labor unions dwindled until they became a lesser if not negligible factor in economic and political life.

With one exception: public sector unions continued to grow.  There were two crucial decisions that made this possible, both made by President John F. Kennedy.  Public sector unions were growing by the early 1960s, but JFK's executive order in 1962 institutionalized them within the federal government. This legitimized them at state and city levels as well.  By 2009, membership in public sector unions exceeded membership in private sector unions.

But the other and less appreciated decision actually came earlier.  In one of the first acts of his presidency, Kennedy ordered that no racial discrimination would be permitted in federal government employment, nor in contractors and subcontractors to the government, nor in labor unions working on these contracts. He created a mechanism to follow up to ensure compliance.  This was crucial: FDR had created a non-discrimination policy at the start of World War II but without enforcement.

The federal government at the time of Kennedy's order directly or indirectly employed nearly a quarter of the workforce.  This set a powerful precedent, and was instituted thereafter by states and cities.  Eventually anti-discrimination laws and policies would broaden beyond race, and government would be the most diverse employer.

This also meant that public sector union membership would be diverse.  In the 1960s, the large labor unions were advocates for civil rights (the AFL-CIO and Autoworkers were sponsors of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom--and members were participants.)  But unions struggled to build diverse membership, and after the issue of Vietnam splintered the big unions politically, that expansion of diversity slowed.  This by and large was not the case in public sector unions, where diversity was built into their growth.

Now we come to an intriguing political moment.  Public sector unions can help create a Blue Wave in the 2018 elections, but in particular, they can help make that a more diverse wave. This is a particular possibility this year, with many more women as well as more racially and culturally diverse candidates running.

 They in turn can represent a more diverse workforce and citizenry, fighting against the oppression now underway in Washington and many states, as well as championing both the public sector and a diverse America.  This last bastion of the labor movement can be key to saving the country from the rule of its worst instincts and worst people, those now in apparent power, who are creating an insidious internal threat that could turn out to be mortal.

                                       *                  *                 *

I can't even bear to make a separate post of this, I am just too sickened by it to comment at length,  but I can't ignore it either.  The nomination of the abomination called Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is the climax of the evil that is the Senate majority leader and Senate Republicans, and the entire R administration.  Its importance could well be profound, and for a long time. So far it seems that Senate Democrats are too weak and dithery, and Democrats in general too distracted, to offer much more than phantom resistance to the morally bankrupt Republicans of the Senate. Right now it looks like a tragic farce.  But we shall see.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

They're Back...

Homegrown Hitlers go public in America.  Like this:

Robocalls against Florida gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum (D) that say they were paid for by a neo-Nazi group in Idaho are going out to voters, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

“The automated calls are narrated by someone pretending to be Gillum and using an exaggerated minstrel dialect with jungle noises in the background. The calls end with a disclaimer that they were funded by The Road to Power, an anti-Semitic, white supremacist website and podcast linked to Scott Rhodes of Sandpoint, Idaho.”

And this?

Nazi Sympathizers Running for Mayor in Hilton Head

One candidate in the Hilton Head, South Carolina mayoral race denies that the mass genocide of Jews by the Nazis ever happened, the Charleston Post & Courier reports.

Another candidate praised the leadership style of Adolf Hitler: “He did what he had to do. He got that many people to follow him. He must have been doing something right.”

And it gets a little more real in the Fatherland, from the Guardian:

“I’m used to the neo-Nazis,” she says, “but not seeing my neighbour or the plumber mixing with them in broad daylight. You can’t rule out anyone being here.” It’s a development, she says, that has taken place over the past three years, since Angela Merkel sanctioned the arrival of more than 1 million refugees.

The protests, which saw neo-Nazis deploy illegal Hitler arm salutes, culminated on the first night in mobs of rightwing extremists breaking off and searching for foreigners to beat up, in scenes that have been compared to the Nazi pogroms of the 1930s."

This isn't the first step.  This is the next step, which is already in progress.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Chicago 1968: An American Tragedy



My memories of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago fifty years ago this week are scattered fragments: blue and white images of demonstrators on a defective television, a conversation in Chicago during the convention with witnesses to the carnage, personal consequences of the generation gap and a strange encounter with a Chicago policeman, as well as more detailed television images of the last days of the convention, including the infamous beatings in front of the Hilton, covered live by the networks fifty years ago tonight.

Fitting these memories into a sensible time and place narrative is more difficult.
One reason is that I did a lot of traveling in the summer of 1968, trying to organize the next steps in my life after the debacle of my non-graduation.  My memories at this remove are even more jumbled, but I was able to reconstruct some of my movements by consulting surviving letters I received as well as some I wrote home.

 I apparently stayed in Galesburg for the first few weeks of June  (I was actually taking a course at Knox or perhaps two, independent studies, to add credits if not requirements) with a foray or two to Iowa City.   I had been accepted at the Iowa Writers Workshop unconditionally, whether I had a degree or not.  But scholarships and fellowships were available only through the university, which required the B.A. for graduate work.  On a visit to the University offices I poured through their rules and found a loophole: if I was close enough to fulfill requirements in my first year, they could take me.  I alerted the Workshop--George Starbuck was the director--and started that process.

Meanwhile I was going to Chicago for draft counselling, and on their advice, was not staying in one place long enough to have a draft physical scheduled--a temporary measure at best.  It was coming, and so the whole graduate school plan could well be wasted effort.

In late June I spent a few days in Libertyville, Illinois, Bill Thompson's home town (as well as Adlai Stevenson's) to attend Bill's wedding.  Joni was there, and one of my few memories is that at some point (probably not on the wedding day) sneaking a tryst in the basement back room of Bill's parents' house, and getting trapped there when people came down.  We, or at least I, had to escape by climbing through a window.

I then spent about a month at home in western Pennsylvania, and rode back to Galesburg with Robin and Lynn Metz and their two young daughters in their station wagon.  They'd been in Pittsburgh, where Robin's family lived.  Eventually I spent a few weeks in Boulder, Colorado visiting Joni, who was taking courses there.

At some point in late August, Mike Shain and I drove Bill and his bride, plus a trailer or U-Haul of his possessions, to Hamilton, Ontario, where he would attend graduate school and live, as it turned out, for the rest of his life.

Christopher Walken in 1968 Stratford
production of Romeo & Juliet
This actually was the subject of one of the last email discussions between Bill and me before his sudden and untimely death last summer, but letters I recently excavated confirm it.  At first I couldn't sort out memories from my wedding visit from elements of this trip.  I actually remembered the trip back much better, because Shain and I stopped in Stratford, Ontario and saw two plays at the Shakespeare Festival: a Romeo and Juliet in the afternoon (apparently we saw Christopher Walken as Romeo), and a late night contemporary play in their studio theatre with the same actors, which was riveting.

(I also remember that in leaving Stratford we spotted a sign at a newsstand that said the London Times was on sale there.  In those days, the idea of seeing a real newspaper from England was almost magical.  But alas, it turned out to be the daily for London, Ontario.)

Shain and I probably had met up with Bill in Galesburg to gather some of Bill's belongings from our old place, the Galesburg Home for the Bewildered on West First Street ( soon to have new student tenants), and we then proceeded to Libertyville before the main trip to Hamilton.  This is where it gets tricky, for I associate my memory of the blue and white television picture with Libertyville.  I'm pretty sure the car belonged to Bill's father, so we would have returned it there--that may have been the opportunity to see some of the pre-convention Yippie activities, and the first police actions, on that TV.

Soon however I was down in Chicago, though nowhere near the convention.  I met up with available Knox friends, who may have included graduates of earlier years. One was involved with several other former Knox students in a peace cafe in Old Town--it may even have been called Alice's Restaurant. (That Arlo Guthrie song became the unofficial antiwar anthem at Knox, sung spontaneously when encountering military recruiters on campus, for instance.) I don't recall who this ex-student was--the only name I remember as being involved with that project is Steven Goldberg. Maybe it was him.  Anyway, someone told us about Sunday in Old Town.

Lincoln Park during that day, before police attacked.
 On Sunday August 25, the day before the convention officially opened, a "Festival of Life" was held in Lincoln Park, organized by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the Yippies.

 Politics was leavened with music.  The park was open to everyone until the 11 p.m. curfew, when there were an estimated 2,000 people left. At that point the police moved in and started clubbing people, including those already attempting to leave the park, as well as reporters and photographers.  The crowd sought refuge in Old Town but police followed them and kept clubbing them.  Our friend told us that their peace cafe became a field hospital, as they tended to the injured.

It was not a complete surprise.  It had happened before, not only in the civil rights and free speech movements, but specifically to anti-war demonstrators.  In a 1967 letter to me, Knox grad Michael Hamrin described police busting up a demonstration in Oakland.  It had the same characteristics: indiscriminate violence by police--clubbing, tear gas and mace--against protestors, credentialed reporters and passers-by.

In fact, a specific warning had come out of Old Town earlier in the month, from a group that possibly included Knox people.  It was a letter warning peace demonstrators to stay away from Chicago, because "the cops will riot."  The festival of life could become "a festival of blood."   (The information that brutality was authorized may well have come from the local police they worked with in Old Town.)

The letter was published in a number of underground newspapers.  Such warnings are probably part of the reason I never thought about going.  In fact many demonstrators had been warned away.  I was on the busload of demonstrators from Knox that joined the 50 to 100 thousand at the Pentagon the previous October. Chicago didn't have nearly that many.

But the brutality script got even worse later in the convention.  Reporters were followed, harassed and detained, even delegates were harassed, on the convention floor.  On the day after the convention was over, police actually invaded the Eugene McCarthy suites in the convention hotel and beat up staffers, even breaking into rooms and pulling people out of their beds.

The Lincoln Park brutality was on Sunday.  On Monday night police attacked demonstrators, press and Chicago residents on their own porches in the vicinity of Grant Park.

On Tuesday there was more violence at Lincoln Park while the National Guard oversaw a peaceful Grant Park full of demonstrators.

But what most people saw on television happened on Wednesday, August 28.  In the convention hall, a carefully negotiated "peace plank" for the party platform, opposed by LBJ and his puppet candidate Hubert Humphrey, was voted down.  Inside the hall, people began spontaneously singing "We Shall Overcome," punctuated by the frantic gavel at the podium that failed to stop them.  But the news of the vote also reached demonstrators outside, in Grant Park.


It was perhaps the largest gathering of the week, estimated at 6,000.  Organizers once again attempted to march to the convention hall.  Police and National Guard (with machine guns) blocked the march and police were ordered to clear the streets.

“The police attacked . . . like a chain saw cutting into wood, the teeth of the saw the edge of their clubs, they attacked like a scythe through grass, lines of twenty and thirty policemen striking out in an arc, their clubs beating, demonstrators fleeing,”wrote Norman Mailer in his celebrated book on the two 1968 political conventions, Miami and the Siege of Chicago.

Demonstrators were backed up to the Hilton Hotel where networks had their cameras.  The resulting carnage--beatings, mace, tear gas--were covered on live television, along with the demonstrators' haunting chant: "The whole world is watching."

Delegates inside the convention hall were also watching.  They could see the police riot (as the Kerner commission later officially called it) on television monitors as nomination speeches for the party's presidential candidates were proceeding.  Delegates could be seen (and heard) reacting, but the convention chair tried to squelch any protest.

But then it came time to nominate George McGovern, a peace candidate meant to absorb votes of Robert Kennedy supporters who couldn't bring themselves to vote for Eugene McCarthy.

 McGovern's name was placed in nomination by Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut, an RFK supporter who had served in JFK's cabinet. He looked down from the podium directly at Mayor Daley in the Illinois delegation that was positioned front and center when he said, "and with George McGovern as President of the United States, we wouldn't have Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago."  Daley, his face contorted with anger, shouted something back which some heard as "Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch."

Humphrey was nominated on the first ballot.  Some 400 delegates joined protesters in Grant Park.

The next day there was another emotional moment in the convention hall when a short film on the life and death of Senator Robert Kennedy was shown.  This was the first Democratic Convention since 1964, when Robert Kennedy introduced a film about his murdered brother, President John F. Kennedy.

Again spontaneous singing rang out in the hall.  This time it was The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which was the song that crowds in some places had spontaneously sung as Robert Kennedy's funeral train passed by.  One witness wrote of the singing in the hall, "It seemed that they would never stop."

It is highly likely that none of this would have happened if Robert Kennedy hadn't been murdered in June.  In 1968 the state primaries elected relatively few delegates--the power was still with party officials, who were essentially controlled by LBJ.  Even after RFK won the largest primary in California, LBJ's anointed successor, VP Hubert Humphrey, would arrive at the convention with more delegates.

But things would probably have changed there, and the key ironically would have been Mayor Daley.  Daley had no firm conviction about Vietnam, but he wanted a winning candidate, and he'd helped JFK win the White House.  He let it slip once in the time leading up to the convention that his candidate had died.

Two Conn. McCarthy delegates: Paul Newman
and playwright Arthur Miller
Even after RFK's death, Daley and reportedly many other party regulars knew that Humphrey was a weak candidate.  He was running far behind Nixon in the polls, and even behind McCarthy in Illinois.  Daley was one of those leaders who during convention week tried to persuade Senator Ted Kennedy to accept a draft for the nomination, but the Kennedy family was still in disarray after RFK's death and Ted was now the head of the family.  He was only 36, just a year beyond the age of eligibility to run for President.   In the end he declined.

But had RFK lived and Daley delivered the Illinois delegation, others would have followed, and it is likely that Robert Kennedy would have won the nomination, with every chance of winning the presidency and in short order ending the Vietnam war.

The demonstrations in Chicago would probably have been different as well.  Some groups had begun planning them immediately after the October march on the Pentagon, but when McCarthy and then RFK entered the race and were winning primaries, interest slowed to nearly a stop.  It was only after RFK's assassination, when it was clear that McCarthy wouldn't make a real run at the nomination, that calls for demonstrations became louder and more urgent.

Bumper sticker I plastered on my guitar case after 1972
election.  Particularly popular during Watergate.
The debacle of the nomination itself led to reforms within the Democratic party to give wider representation at the convention and more decision-making to voters, including the expansion of primaries that now usually decide the candidate.

 But the immediate effect was mostly to replace the violent chaos of 1968 with the joyous chaos of the 1972 convention.  Humphrey in 1968 came within a half million votes of the presidency.  George McGovern in 1972 went down to the most resounding electoral college defeat in history, losing every state but Massachusetts and DC to Nixon, re-elected by that margin despite what was already known about Watergate.

Part of the reason was that a lot of people didn't like chaos.  They didn't like rampant impropriety (and worse) that threatened stability and security, and seemed to insult their careful lives.  So even though polls and primary results showed that a great many Americans wanted the Vietnam war to end, and some saw the horror of official police violence, they tended to blame the demonstrators more.

That's why, some say, Humphrey lost in 1968, and a contributing reason for McGovern's loss in 1972. And it's probably why, one night of convention week in Chicago, I couldn't find a place to sleep.

A star of TV coverage, young Julian
Bond, who had to pass on a vice-
presidential nomination bid  because he was
too young.
I have strong memories of watching the TV coverage of the last three days of the convention.  I just don't remember where I was watching.  But it seems likely I left Chicago on Tuesday.  So it must have been on Monday night that I was out with Knox friends.  My train was leaving the next morning, so I needed a place for that night--in other words, the guest room or floor of somebody's parents' house in the Chicago suburbs.

But there was too much chaos on television, and one by one, my friends failed to get permission (let alone an invitation.)  I imagine the question was asked more than once, "Does he have long hair?"

So I had no recourse but to sleep in the train station.  I find myself in memory walking Chicago streets at night, a little stoned and a little lost.  I thought I was close to the station but wasn't sure.  I was cutting through a large parking lot when I saw a policeman in the gear I'd seen on TV, perhaps returned from the battle, leaning against a car in the semi-dark.  His head was down.  He seemed to be shaken.  I don't even think he saw me before I spoke. For whatever other instincts I had, my first was from childhood training: when you're lost, ask a policeman.

That's what I did.  He looked up to see a long-haired kid carrying a duffel bag and a guitar case.  I repeated the question and he straightened up.  He seemed to come to himself.  He thought about it a second and gave me walking directions to my train station.  I thanked him and moved off into the darkness.

Grand Central Station circa 1968, demolished in 1969.
Here's where the memory gets fuzzier.  I recall the station I was looking for as the Grand Central Station (which no longer exists.)  I know I took trains from there to Pittsburgh, and indeed there was at least one train--the B&O Chicago Capitol Limited--that still left from there.

Chicago Grand Central Station interior
But it doesn't make sense that I would be going home.  There were only a couple of weeks before I was due to register in Iowa City, where my fellowship had finally come through.  I was probably on my way back to Galesburg, where I still had possessions I would be taking to Iowa City.  So the station was more likely Union Station.  (I also have some nagging memory of LaSalle Street Station but I don't know why.)

Union Station 1968
In any case, I made it to the station that night, and was dozing in the waiting room when a worried looking man in a vaguely railroad uniform woke me up, and asked me what I was doing there.  I told him I was taking a train in the morning.  Somehow I satisfied him this was this case--maybe I had a ticket, or I bought one from him.  In any case his attitude changed completely once I was a passenger, and he escorted me up some stairs to another waiting room where other passengers were sleeping.  I would be safe there, he said.

There are many books, articles and videos on the Chicago convention, as well as information online. ( I found this timeline particularly useful.)  One of my favorite books covering the subject is An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968 by three British reporters.  But their title is wrong: this was an American tragedy.

There are recent recollections and commentaries, including David Denby in the New Yorker, who basically writes about Mailer writing about Chicago. He ends with a comparison to today.  He quotes Mailer:

"Since obsessions dragoon our energy by endless repetitive contemplations of guilt we can neither measure nor forget, political power of the most frightening sort was obviously waiting for the first demagogue who would smash the obsession and free the white man of his guilt. Torrents of energy would be loosed, yes, those same torrents which Hitler had freed in the Germans when he exploded their ten-year obsession with whether they had lost the war through betrayal or through material weakness. Through betrayal, Hitler had told them."

Denby concludes:

"This premonition of Donald Trump and of what Trump has “loosed” in his audience was written exactly fifty years ago. At the moment, not one word of it seems excessive. “Miami & the Siege of Chicago” was composed at the worst time in our national life, though the current moment is a close second. Reading it gives not only pleasure of a literary sort but strength and solace. If the country could survive 1968, it will survive Donald Trump, too."

Inevitably I think instead about contrasting moments in Grant Park.  Photos from 1968 show it filled with protestors, who on several occasions got battered by police.  It was in political terms the center of frustration and futility as well as brutality.

Then there was election night of 2008, when thousands gathered in that same Grant Park to hear the networks say that America had elected its first black President, and then to see Barack Obama and his family make their first post-election appearance on the stage before them.

It's not a sight that I would have imagined possible forty years before.  And now, ten years after, it's hard to believe that it ever really happened.